“The simplest truth about man is that he is a very strange being…” G.K. Chesterton
a few definitions:
Very good or pleasant; excellent: “Julie was a super girl”.
A state of near-unconsciousness or insensibility: “a drunken stupor”.
stupefaction – torpor – numbness – torpidity
Blaise Pascal, the “precocious genius” born in 1623, applied his God-given mental and spiritual insights to the puzzles and problems of the human condition. He was not only a brilliant mathematician and inventor, but an insightful philosopher/theologian born out of time. He made the following observation about humankind:
How does it happen that this man, so distressed at the death of his wife and his only son, or who has some great lawsuit which annoys him, is not at this moment sad, and that he seems so free from all painful and disquieting thoughts? We need not wonder; for a ball has been served him, and he must return it to his companion. He is occupied in catching it in its fall from the roof, to win a game. How can he think of his own affairs, pray, when he has this other matter in hand? Here is a care worthy of occupying this great soul and taking away from him every other thought of the mind. This man, born to know the universe, to judge all causes, to govern a whole state, is altogether occupied and taken up with the business of catching a hare. And if he does not lower himself to this and wants always to be on the strain, he will be more foolish still, because he would raise himself above humanity; and after all, he is only a man, that is to say capable of little and of much, of all and of nothing; he is neither angel nor brute, but man. (Pensees, no. 140)
I think that Pascal must have actually seen what he describes in the opening words, and been quite shocked. I suppose sports obsession is nothing new. What Pascal concluded from his observations and analysis, was that we suffer from a condition he labelled as “diversion.” What it means he conveyed in a phrase that has become fairly well known,
“I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber…” (Pensees, no. 139)
Of course, Pascal was an unbelievably deep thinker, and the significance of “diversion” is not something I can here discuss in any depth. So in passing I merely say the following.
Diversion is is our reaction to a spiritual malady we all have, a malady Pascal called our “secret unhappiness.” Our desire to evade this unhappiness drives us to divert ourselves from self-awareness with activity. So our diversion drives us further from ourselves. Our alienation from God is the root cause of our secret unhappiness. Thus our life does not proceed as it should from faith to faith, but from evasion to evasion.
The ultimate remedy to “diversion” is “conversion.” Part of conversion is “coming to ourselves,” the “flip side of the coin” in our turning to God. The well known parable of Jesus shows that when “the prodigal son” stopped and surveyed his true condition, he “came to himself.” (Gospel of Luke 15:17-18)
In conclusion, I am not saying that watching the super bowl is plainly sinful, or necessarily causes “stupor.” I may even watch it myself! (I should probably find out who is playing and when it is.) What I am saying is that we as individuals, we as a culture, need to reflect on our life, and if it consists in the main, in “diversion,” that our life mainly consists in the essential malady at our very core.
The super bowl is often exciting, and the details and outcome are news for much enjoyable discussion, and this is all good. Tim Keller, writing of the word “gospel” says.
Gospel means “news that brings joy.” This word had currency when Mark used it, but it wasn’t religious currency. It meant history-making, life shaping news, as opposed to just daily news. For example, there is an ancient Roman inscription from about the time as Jesus and Mark. It starts: “The beginning of the gospel of Caesar Augustus.” It’s the story of the birth and coronation of the Roman emperor. a gospel was news of some event that changed things in a meaningful way. It could be an ascension to the throne, or it could be a victory. (King’s Cross, 14-15)
The victory of one team against another in the super bowl, will probably not really impact our life in any significant way. The victory of Jesus Christ over sin, death, and diversion most surely can.
So will you be able to “stay quietly in your own chamber” on super bowl sunday? OK, what if in that chamber is a 92″ big screen TV?
Enjoy the game, but remember the big game!
More posts that relate somewhat to Blaise Pascal
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